Wednesday, October 26, 2005

the tools we use are far too fancy

I make things way too difficult sometimes. Actually *gasp* I think we all do - especially the church as it "emerges".
Before you go reading anything else here, take a look at this music video. Trust me. The first 30 seconds are nothing special, and I'm not sure that i even liked the song at that point... but what happens next is a perfect example of how powerful simplicity really is.
Jed's Other Poem

What you watched was a short film/music video featuring the band Grandaddy. Now, in today's hi-tech world, there is probably an incredible way to use a $4,000 machine and software package to digitally animate the characters on the screen to match what you just saw. Any reasonably trained animator could do it with a few days of work.

The magic of the video, though, is that it was created on an Apple IIc that was built in 1979. The entire machine had less RAM than this text file would take up [48K]. It was programmed with a BASIC-esque language, and required about 15 minutes of learning to do it. I remember playing with BASIC back then, and being able to make some cool stuff.

The reason for this post? We make our lives [and our churches] too complicated in the way we create interaction with each other and Christ. It really doesn't matter what the newest-greatest toy is out there to guide us or complement our incredible worship experience. There were plenty of tools that existed in, say 60 A.D., to enable Christianity to spread thousands of miles in a few years. With no powered transportation and limited mass communication methods.

I'm not suggesting that we move back to pre-electric days and ditch the internet. In fact, I think that e-communication is essential in the future of our church. What I AM saying is: when does the pursuit of the next great method or format actually get in the way of what we're trying to do?

Nothing will ever replace face-to-face conversation. Deal with it.
Sure, we need to create new environments that foster those conversations, and find avenues to attract people into those moments, but in reality... won't the most simple tools work in most instances?
Try it, you might like it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

information gladly given?

I've ridden the MUNI in San Francisco many times on my visits there, and there's a sign on every MUNI bus that says this:


The first time I read it, I nearly broke out into tears laughing. At the time, I thought it fit perfectly with the job I was doing - working for a non-profit organization made up of male college students.

Now that I work in a Christian community, I wonder even more how well this applies to what we do in the "church." As someone who came from outside of the emerging community within the last few years - and in fact was a pretty stubborn dissenter - I am impressed that the SF MUNI system was able to so closely capture how so many of us interact with normal people.

What I mean is that when I started attending my current church community, I was really impressed by so much of who the people were, how clear the message was, how beautifully committed everyone seemed to be - but not by how open they were. I felt like I could get to the same point with everyone I met, but never further, unless I already knew them.
This has certainly changed for me at Warehouse, and I really believe we are wrestling with this symptom on a daily basis. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don't.
I've experienced the same thing in at least three other post-modern/emerging/non-trad churches that I've visited over the last year.
The key words in the statement are: "but safety requires". And I think we all believe that is true. So many if us believe [whether we admit it or not] that there is something distinctly dangerous, or just not safe, about freely admitting who we are to people who are investigating our communities. We all have skeletons in our closet - heck, our faith seems to be built on those skeletons some days - but the magic of our faith and the promise of Christ is that those skeletons liberate us. Our very flaws are essential to the story we live. Unless we openly remember on a daily basis how broken each of us still is we can't ever hope to speak into the lives of people who can only see their brokenness.

What should this look like? Beats me.
But I'm up for trying to find out. I'm up for the conversation. I'm up for the ten thousand conversations that need to happen every week. The turn we need to make to the newest folks in our lives to really ask what their pain looks like - and to share that ours is just as ugly, but the solution is beautiful.
Deb and Dennis did that for me a few years ago, and I'll never be able to repay that debt, unless I am constantly asking also.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

the allure of wide distraction

Over at 43folders [one of my absolute faves] Merlin brought together a pile of references to the very basic concept of distraction. Now, the guys over there are productivity wizards, and are mostly focused on personal and professional-type effectiveness tools, but I think this concept has particular bearing on our role in ministry.

Merlin quotes Paul Ford when he talks about the difference between wide and narrow distractions in our daily lives. The wide ones are those that are the dog toys - a piece of rawhide or a thrown bone - and the narrow ones are the things that take us down miles and miles of rabbit trails - farther away from where we started.

As we work in our daily interactions with normal people, how often do we let both elements of distraction (wide ones that show up as superficial red herrings - and narrow ones that allow for meaningless arguments we have with ourselves) prevent us from getting to the real depth of the conversation. I love the thoughts my friends are having right now [pat/jen/dan/crissy] of jumping off the ledge into church planting in london. While they are carefully planning and exploring, I get the real sense that the wide and narrow that run in our way will not trip them up. They are really listening to the base-level call of the gospel and they are investing completely and honestly.

That type of integrity in mission - the kind that overcomes the distractions we're dealing with every day - is sorely lacking in far too many of our christian communities.
The distraction of personality can be crushing some days, and i'm just wondering how often we let the wide and narrow nature of it get in the way of everything we say we do.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

sometimes you have to believe yourself

so i went to see elizabethtown over the weekend with TC, and was pleasantly surprised. i wrote earlier about how excited i was to see it, and i really have been pumped for a while now.
unfortunately, i read the reviews last week, and they tore it up!
i mean, without seemingly any exception, the reviewers called it an underachieving movie that just didn't hit the mark.
i can't disagree more. in fact, it was one of the first films in a long time that both my wife and i agreed instantly that we want to own on DVD.
the performances were solid - paula deen [the food network southern cook lady] was great, kirsten dunst got over herself just enough to keep from tripping on her own melodrama, and orlando bloom actually convinced me he's not a woman in men's clothing.
and, without question, the highlight of the flick was the most amazing use of Free Bird i've ever encountered. Cameron Crowe built a fake band [using My Morning Jacket as the basis] and created a tribute tune that is worthy of the ages.

the magic of the movie was built by cameron crowe's particular ability to meld acting and music into film. he never lopes on or manufactures with the crutch of a familliar song, and in fact used much more esoteric stuff this time around. somehow, he built it into a powerhouse of southern rock and wistful newcomers that constantly supports the story.
well done.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

wallpaper and pure, blistering magic


i'm amazed at what we let drift into the background.
my wife and i just got back from the nickel creek concert at ovens auditorium, and while it the most sterile environment we've seen them in, it was still an unbelievable show. the combo of those three kids blows my skull. newgrass, bluerock, alt.country, whatever you want to call it, the talent level in the room was blistering. there's three 20-ishs in the group, and they go off on their own for a few weeks, play with some of the best [read: oldtime] bluegrass musicians in the country, and come back together with a pile of new tunes that could create fourteen albums. they pick the best of that crop, jam on it for a while, and record their records 'live' - warts and all.
what comes out the other end is heavy magic, and i will never get enough of it.

but i digress.

in the midst of this group, made up of chris thile, a true savant on the mandolin [not many can woo successfully using only a mandolin], sarah watkins, a beauty who can create flames from her fiddle, and, well, that other guy, there is, well, that other guy.
sean watkins - that other guy - plays a killer guitar. he's not sexy in high heels ..sarah.., or reinvigorating a musical genre [hills music] ..chris.., instead, he simply plays a guitar like almost no one i've ever seen.
i mean, i've seen dave matthews, david wilcox, tim reynolds, phil keagy, and the edge - live. they are good. reeeeally good. but not one of them can match the finger skill - pure rolling grace - that sean owns when he's playing.
in nickel creek, he's the supporting act. he's the background. he's the simple grace that holds the tune together.
he fades into the background. he's wallpaper.

bu the wallpaper is magic. blistering magic.

Monday, October 10, 2005

$8.50 for a matinee. baaaargain.

the list of movies-to-see never gets shorter. proof:

1 | elizabethtown. there's no substitute for good music in good movies. cameron crowe is good like that.
elizabethtown trailer
music feature trailer

2 | walk the line. johnny. cash. you heard me right. johnny. friggin'. cash.
johnny cash trailer

3 | v for vendetta. natalie portman shaved her head for this. written by the matrix guys. c'mon. this is too good.
shaved head. still hot. watch the trailer.

4 | rent. yeah, i like showtunes, and i know which of the actors in this flick played the original roles on broadway.
rent trailer [the song is worth it]

5 | domino. there just aren't enough movies about bounty hunters.
domino trailer

Sunday, October 09, 2005

cameron crowe's gonna lose his job.

this has to be one of the most creative things i've seen in a decade.
find it here. it's worth watching.
i'm already drooling over the whole mash-up music thing, now i have to deal with this, too?

current fave on the mashup front: Sombody Rock Me

watch. listen. then tell me you're not addicted.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

well used. words.

the power of simple language amazes me. especially in "church". heck, even that word has an indeterminably large bag of twisted power associated with it. not the entity, but the word. how many faith communities/plants/worship arenas/gatherings, etc, do everything in their power to NOT be referred to as a church? as if people might not know, or might not associate their baggage with us? c'mon. really? you sticking with that story?

i'm amazed by the ability some writers/lyricists have in building truly beautiful creations using only very pedestrian and simple words. that is where the true power of words is seen. not in big rhetoric, but in small, simple syllables that dance.

chris caraba - the dashboard guy - Bend and Not Break
I'm talented at breathing / especially exhaling / so that my chest will / rise and fall with yours.

conor oberst - the brights eyes guy - Waste of Paint
I have a friend, he's mostly made of pain...
Your eyes are poor / you're blind you see / no beauty could have come from me

now that's words well used.
when we get all obsessed with big words, big meanings, big ideas that have no real explanation that will work - where do we get trapped? do we really enjoy being confined but a mutt of a language that can't decide whether its coming or going?

if you don't believe me, ask someone to define faith, Christian, worship, or Bill Clinton's "is" - it's just not gonna happen without a fistfight.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

i found a reason - by cat power

quick review: "i found a reason" by cat power
chan marshall, a 30-ish singer with no real pop credits, put out a record filled with relatively obscure covers in 2000, and the gem stuck right in the middle is an old lou reed / velvet underground tune called "i found a reason". the whole performance is only 2 minutes long, and feels even shorter, mostly due to the barren arrangement that seems to alternately employ voice OR piano, but rarely both in conjunction. together, they form a seamless line that never seems to pause, even though there is empty space dripping all over the place.
the original song itself is much simpler and choppy than her performance would allow, and Cat Power has accomplished the truly rare: they have updated and improved a lou reed song.
what makes Chan's [pronounced Shawn] track so good is the notion that not all "pretty" songs need to avoid musical tension or follow a tested beginning-middle-end flow. the abrupt stop adds grace to the poetry instead of feeling unfinished, and her play on the lyrical bounce of 'come, come, come, to me' manages to avoid becoming campy.
overall, Cat Power has taken a song that didn't need to be remade [it was so good already] and made it better.
worth 99 cents.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

iron and coke, chromium steel

sitting in a coffee shop has the allure of mental poetry. it just feels like creativity should flow beautifully as i smell the sumatra roasting and watch the pretty people walk by. unfortunately, that has rarely been the case lately.

sometimes i feel trapped in the reins of the expectations of Creativity with a capital Cr. you see, Cr is also the periodic table symbol for Chromium, a transition metal. Chromium is primarily used in the making of stainless steel, but is a strengthening agent used around the world. Transition Metals are a family of elements that have a very magical quality - they are malleable, meaning they can be formed into almost any shape, and they conduct electricity and heat. The interesting thing about transition metals is that their valence electrons, or the electrons they use to combine with other elements, are present in more than one shell. This means they connect with other elements on more than one level, creating an incredible bond [thus the strength of metals] and betraying any desire to break at the atomic level. Transition Metals are also the only elements that create magentic fields.

Cr, this often ugly but vital metal, is the essence of creativity to me.

i know that may seem to make very little sense, but there is a liberating freedom in its qualities. really, the purpose of integrating the core of creativity into any environment is that sub-level and unbreakable bonding quality that these transition metals posess. they conduct electricity and heat - passing on the passion - and bond deeply with the other elements present to form painfully strong substances and expereinces that allow for indellible effect.

like music.
pure music.

the kind of music that never allows one line or lyric to bore magically into skull, but rather begs you to understand the entire piece before you can remember any single element of it. the kind of music that, when asked, you can't sing a line from it to save your life, you can only beg the person asking to sit and listen to the whole piece - five times without stopping.

that kind of music.
that kind of chromium music

Monday, October 03, 2005

baffled and trapped. all in a song.

two times now recently, i've been overwhelmingly baffled by an amazing song - baffled to the point that i get trapped in it and can't seem to come up for air. it has the same feeling as when you're 11 years old and you run into an underwater stamina test that nearly breaks your lungs, and the feeling of fleeting life traps you and liberates you for a second that wraps you up for a year.
right now, imogen heap [the lead singer from frou frou] is lyrically seared into my ears with such a trembling grace that i'm now on a fifth-straight listen, with no end to the repeat button in sight.

i'm excited to hear the rest of her new album. josh a. turned me on to this one tune, and i'll be forever grateful.
there's a truly reminiscent quality to the performance, like a memory is actually skipping through while she sings. the lyrics are simply umcomplicated, but betray the depth of knowing where the pain comes from, or where she'll feel it next.

oh yeah, the song is called "hide and seek" by imogen heap. enjoy, just don't say i didn't warn you.

Imogen Heap Website

sweaty forehead & shaking hands

the gathering at 242 this morning was smooth, short, and in need of a solid push beyond our comfort zone. dave's talk was really a breath of fresh air. i love the conversational nature of our usual talk format, but dave really ratcheted up the intensity by presenting the message in a theatrical way. by relating a piece of the story of david so thespianically, he drove home the reality of this ancient example. it's so easy to compartmentalize old testament teaching because it feels, well, distant. this morning, by taking the story into our modern context, i was able to connect more fully.
response and worship was trying today. rachel's voice was fantastic, and the technique of the musicians worked well, but i felt pretty constantly off-kilter. my hands were trmebling to the point that an average A chord was a challenge. psalm 131 worked. it flat out worked, and i want to invest more in the truly worshipful nature of peotic music, without worrying about the technical crap the binds me into myself. one simple riff of five notes - not even built into a chord - holds so much power in that song, and david's thousands of years old lyrics really entrance me.
i had a pretty shaky morning. the tremors were absolutely annoying, and my back was wrenched to the point that it made me sweat. scary, but we made it through. in the midst of these physical challenges, i really am forced [sometimes unwillingly] to rely completely on God to build a intelligible line out of my hands. it always works, yet i seem constantly untrusting.
what will it take?